Scientist calls for ban on helium balloons

19 December 2012

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24 December 2012 | Adam Leach

Helium balloons should be banned to preserve the supply of the gas for use in life-saving medical equipment such as breathing apparatus for newborn babies, according to a Cambridge University chemist.

As part of the Royal Institution's Christmas Lectures to be aired on BBC Four on Boxing Day, Dr Peter Wothers, who is also a fellow of the Royal Society of Chemistry, will call for the use of helium in festive balloons to be banned. His argument is that supplies of the gas should be preserved for more meaningful uses.

Wothers will say: “There is a finite supply of this lighter-than-air gas on Earth so if we keep using it for non-essential things like party balloons, where we’re just letting it float off into space, we could be in for some serious problems in around 30-50 years time. The gas is hugely valuable, particularly in its medical applications where the precious gas is carefully recycled, and we simply should not be wasting it.”

In 2009, global helium consumption was measured to be enough to fill 68,000 Olympic-sized swimming pools, with 10 per cent of this being used in celebratory helium balloons.

Professor Lesley Yellowlees, president of the Royal Society of Chemistry, said: “The issues around scarcity of important natural resources, such as helium, are a top priority for the RSC and we continue to work closely with scientists and governments to address these challenges head on.”

The series of Christmas lectures will air on the BBC from 26-28 December and are intended to raise awareness among young people of science issues.

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